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The Best Tasting Hot Dogs Across America: From All Beef to Vegan Options

Few foods stand out amongst the American culinary landscape quite like the hot dog. From the bustling boroughs of New York City to the windy streets of Chicago, and out to the sunny shores of California, hot dogs have secured their place as a beloved staple, gracing cookouts, backyards, ball games, and dining tables nationwide. Let’s look at the regional variations that define the best tasting hot dogs in America – including some vegan picks, for those so inclined.

Boiled, Steamed, Grilled, Or…Rollers?

Grilled hot dogs.
Image credit JasonCPhoto via Shutterstock.

Before we get to exploring hot dog options, it must be said that how you prepare your hot dog can alter the experience. For instance, one dog might dry out upon grilling, but performs wonderfully if boiled or steamed. Some folks like to split their dogs down the middle and pan sear, or griddle them, and certain textures work better than others.

This is important to keep in mind because you might enjoy one hot dog prepared a particular way, but not another. The only way to determine this is to conduct some taste tests yourself.

What Is That Machine?

Hot dogs on rollers.
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We have to address hot dog rollers. These are those machines that you will often find in commercial settings, where hot dogs are continuously rolling around on hot metal rollers. They work well in the settings because customers are able to see and smell the hot dogs, which increase impulse sales. There are small machines made for home use, and you might be wondering if they are worth it.

Rollers are designed to cook hot dogs evenly, and they can even give the hot dogs a crispy texture, which many like. We suppose if you are a real hot dog aficionado, or are planning on a big cookout where you would like to have hot dogs available for a large number of people, buying or renting one of these machines could be an option. The downside of purchasing one is that unlike an air fryer or a blender, these really have no other use.

Turkey Hot Dogs

Turkey looking at camera.
Image credit Richard Wozniak via Shutterstock.

We are not addressing turkey hotdogs in this article. If you are looking for a leaner, meaning lower fat, hot dog option, these are certainly ones to look into.

Unveiling the Top Picks

Kids enjoying hot dogs.
Image credit Sean Locke Photography via Shutterstock.

In our quest to identify the best hot dogs, we studied reviews from The New York Times and Consumer Reports, and ate a bunch ourselves. I am a New Yorker, so even though I am a culinary expert, I admit there might be some good ‘ole NY bias. Here’s a glimpse of top picks:

The New York Times Top 5

Couple eating hot dogs from street vendor.
Image credit goodluz via Shutterstock.

Here are the top dogs as determined by a New York Times review:

  • Hebrew National Kosher Beef Franks – “Classic; the people’s hot dog” – The New York Times 
  • Wellshire Farms Premium All-Natural Uncured Beef Franks 
  • Applegate The Great Organic Uncured Beef Hot Dog
  • Nathan’s Famous Skinless Beef Franks
  • Boars Head Beef Frankfurter Original Family Recipe

Consumer Reports Top 5

woman eating hot dog.
Image credit zeljkodan via Shutterstock.

There are some overlaps for best dog in the Consumer Reports review:

  • Nathan’s Famous Skinless Beef Franks – Consumer Reports, called it “the Goldilocks of hot dogs: crisp skin, subtle spice, uniform texture, and juicy.” I agree on all counts.
  • Hebrew National Kosher Beef Franks
  • Oscar Mayer Uncured Original Wieners
  • 365 Everyday Value Organic Uncured Grass-Fed Beef Hot Dog
  • Ball Park Classic Franks

Turns Out There Are Bad Dogs

woman looking disgusted. Horrified.
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A few dogs have come up again and again as poor choices, either in texture or flavor (or both). Two mentioned on several lists are 365 Whole Foods Market Uncured Grass-Fed Beef Hot Dogs and Trader Joe’s Organic Grass-Fed Uncured Beef Hot Dog. This quote from the New York Times review of the Trader Joe’s dogs encapsulates the experience: “Funky, and not in a good way”.

Yes, we know Consumer Reports includes the 365 Whole Foods dog on their best list. Guess you are going to have to do some taste testing on your own.

Our Top Picks

Man and woman eating hot dogs.
Image credit AnnaStills via Shutterstock.

We agree with the Consumer Report’s two top picks, Nathan’s and Hebrew National. They just taste like my NY childhood and that counts for a lot. Spicy brown mustard and sauerkraut, please. 

Regional Hot Dog Styles

Sabrett hot dog vendor in NY.
Image credit Ameer Mussard-Afcari via Shutterstock.

For those of you who are not from New York, we don’t want you to think that we have left you behind. There are fantastic regional hotdogs from every corner of our country, each with its own approach. Let’s take a look.

New York-Style Hot Dog 

Gray's Papaya.
Image credit Anne Czichos via Shutterstock.

Let’s address the New York style first. The New York-style hot dog is all beef, served with spicy brown mustard and optional tangy sauerkraut; tomato tinged onions are offered as well. New Yorker’s used to go to various Papaya King or and Gray’s Papaya locations, but all of Papaya King have closed, and only one Gray’s remains on Broadway and 72nd, but no matter, we can all find hot dog vendors on street corners under the yellow and blue Sabrett umbrellas. Sure, people joke about “dirty hot dog water” but ask any city-dweller and they will tell you it is part of their charm.

Chicago-Style Hot Dog

Chicago Hot Dog.
Image credit Brent Hofacker via Shutterstock.

Originating from the heart of the Midwest, the Chicago-style hot dog is a culinary masterpiece – that always features 7 items. It starts with a natural casing all-beef frank nestled in a poppy seed bun, and then it is adorned with yellow mustard, bright green relish (bordering on neon), chopped white onions, fresh tomato (wedges or slices), a pickle spear, pickled sport peppers (similar to a slim pepperoncini), and a dash of celery salt. A symphony of flavors, colors, and textures.

California-Style Hot Dog

Pinks. Hot dogs. CA.
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On the West Coast, innovation takes center stage with the California-style hot dog. Wrapped in bacon and topped with avocado, mayo, and a hint of hot sauce, it embodies the adventurous spirit of California cuisine.

And we have to mention Pink’s, which is an institution. They started with chili dogs, which featured chili, mustard, onions and optional/but highly recommended nacho cheese. Now you can get also choose from over 12 flavor combos like the Guadalajara Dog (relish, onions, tomatoes, sour cream, bacon, and jalapeño peppers), or the Brooklyn Pastrami Dog (mustard, pastrami, and Swiss cheese).

Southern Slaw Dog

Slaw-Dog.
Image credit Brian Yarvin via Shutterstock.

Heading south, we encounter the delightful slaw dog, where a generous serving of sweet and tangy coleslaw adds a refreshing crunch, epitomizing the comfort food ethos of the South.

Texas-Style Chili Cheese Dog

Chili dog.
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Everything’s bigger in Texas, including their hot dogs. The Texas-style chili cheese dog, smothered in hearty chili and melted cheese, offers a bold and flavorful take on this classic favorite.

The Hawaiian

Dog on beach in sunglasses.
Image credit Masarik via Shutterstock.

This might not be a state-wide approach, but if you are on Kauai, check out Puka Dog. A juicy dog is nestled in a house-baked bun, dabbed with garlic lemon aioli, and the topped with the famous Aunty Lilikoi’s, which is a sweet-tart passion fruit mustard. And you can order this tangy condiment online, which we highly recommend you do.

Gourmet Hot Dogs 

Bacon-Wrapped-Hot-dog-Shutterstock_1556595119-.
Photo Credit Hajai via Shutterstock.

Across the nation, chefs are elevating the humble hot dog with gourmet ingredients like wagyu beef, artisanal bread, and house-made condiments, redefining the boundaries of indulgence. 

You can try the trend at home. We made our own ketchup, and frankly we missed our Heinz. Caramelized onions on the other hand are exquisite when freshly made. If you are a baker, try made-from-scratch buns. Have fun with it.

Non-Meat Options

Vegan Hot dogs. .
Image credit Brent Hofacker via Shutterstock.

Vegetarians and vegans want hot dog options, and then there are those who just want alternatives. Here is food for thought: we know that vegetarians and vegans have non-meat needs, but we often hear that people want “healthier” options. 

Two vegetable based products that have rated highly in reviews for flavor are Field Roast Classic Smoked Plant-Based Frankfurters and The Impossible Sausage Bratwurst. We encourage you to read labels. They can contain as many as two-dozen ingredients, including gums and highly processed ingredients – much more so than a simple all-beef frank.

Hot Dogs Are Not “Health Food”

woman looking at computer. Horrified, disgusted, confused.
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Hot dogs are often called out for their fat and sodium content. The Impossible choice has a whopping 16 g of total fat, and 7 g of saturated fat. The Hebrew National Beef Franks, rated highly in many reviews, has 13 g of fat, 5 g of which is saturated. The same Impossible choice has 630 g sodium; the Hebrew National contains 480 g.

We don’t look at hot dogs as “health food”. They are hot dogs; we love them for what they are. We eat them on occasion. You can make your own choices. 

The Takeaway

Assorted hot dogs.
Image credit Brent Hofacker via Shutterstock.

There is a hot dog out there for everyone. Whether you’re looking for all beef, alternatives, simple boiled preparations, or grilled, there’s a hotdog out there for you. Get creative with condiments, and maybe try something you haven’t before. 

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Author

  • Dede Wilson

    Dédé Wilson is a journalist with over 17 cookbooks to her name and is the co-founder and managing partner of the digital media partnership Shift Works Partners LLC, currently publishing through two online media brands, FODMAP Everyday® and The Queen Zone.

Last update on 2024-04-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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